Why Congress must pass the anti-political dynasty bill now

Posted at 04/23/14 8:14 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Two reports last week, one from the Asian Development Bank and the other from Bertelsmann Foundation of Germany, might seem unrelated but they both come out as new and urgent reasons for the Philippine Congress to act on proposals to ban political dynasties from public office.

The Philippine Constitution says that “the State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service, and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law.”

To this day, 27 years after the ratification of the Constitution, there has been no implementing law passed by Congress.

Various studies over the past few years have pointed out that one of the reasons that contribute to the big gap between the rich and the poor in the country is the domination of political families in elective posts — either simultaneously or in terms of office that succeed each other.

In many towns and provinces around the country, access to both economic and political power is often dominated by political clans, or “dynasties” as they have come to be referred to.

Last week, Bertelsmann Foundation, recognized worldwide for its work in promoting social change towards “society’s long-term viability,” was reported to have said that “true progress in the Philippines would be out of reach unless the improbable was achieved: dismantling of oligarchies that control both politics and business.”

The German foundation, in its newly released biennial Bertelsmann Transformation Index for this year, was quoted in a Philippine Daily Inquirer report as saying that “the dominance of entrenched family clans in politics and the economy should be reduced to make politics and economics more transparent and competitive.”

Bertelsmann specifically argued for congressional passage of an anti-dynasty legislation which has been debated since 1987, the report said.

Separately, the ADB, in its newly released annual Asian Development Outlook for this year, pointed out that “widening income gaps in developing Asia strengthen the case for government response.”

“It is important to address inequality as this hampers economic growth itself, debilitates poverty reduction efforts, reduces middle class by leaving more people at the extreme ends of income distribution, triggers political repercussions and affects the crime and violence situation which in turn conditions the investment climate in a country,” the ABS-CBNnews.com quoted an ADB supplementary report, “Rising Inequality in Asia and Policy Implications”, as saying.

Without citing political dynasties as a factor behind this situation in the Philippines, ADB deputy chief economist Juzhong Zhuang was quoted in the ABS-CBNnews.com report as saying “the gap between the rich and the poor in the country is still significantly high.”

Closer to home, the National Statistical Coordination Board presented last October findings from a study by economists at the Asian Institute of Management (AIM) showing that poverty was linked to the “prevalence of political dynasties.”

The study cited empirical evidence showing “strong evidence that the more severe poverty is, the higher the prevalence of political dynasties” and that “areas with more poor people tend to have many political dynasties.”

The study was authored by economists Ronald Mendoza and David Yap of the AIM’s Policy Center, together with Edsel Beja Jr. and Victor Venida of the Ateneo de Manila University’s Department of Economics.

“Given that the poor are most vulnerable to political patronage and manipulation as well as practical to sell their votes, a worsening, if not unchanging, poverty would be beneficial to political dynasties,” the AIM economists’ study said.

“Since the largest political dynasties would, in most situations, be the families that have cultivated the most extensive networks of patronage, accumulated the most political and financial capital, and have the access to the largest political machineries, they would also be in the best position to take advantage of vulnerable economically disadvantaged voters,” the study further said.

“Political reforms will be critical in helping families and communities break out of the dynasty-poverty trap,” the study concluded. “Alternative political candidates will need the support of political parties to convey their message of reform and non-traditional politics, built on empowerment, participation and accountability against patron-client relationships that thrive on poverty and inequality.”

In another study last year, Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG) said that “94 percent of all provinces in the Philippines have political dynasties, with an average of 2.3 political families per province.”

With this control of political power, the dynasties have entrenched themselves to dominant positions in land ownership, mining, logging, sugar, tobacco, other industrial enterprises, real estate, media, links to banks and financial institutions, and tie-ups with foreign and local big businesses, CenPEG said.

Quite clearly, all these simply indicate that Congress has run out of excuses to not pass the bill banning political dynasties from public office.

In the House of Representatives, while a consolidated bill on political dynasties and electoral reforms has been approved at the committee level as early as November of last year yet, there has since been a long delay in reporting it out to the plenary.

There seems to be no interest in putting the bill on the plenary’s calendar although Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II has publicly stated that the anti-dynasty bill remains to be “part of the House agenda” for the remainder of the second regular session which ends in June.

At the Senate, on the other hand, there has been no movement even at the committee level. According to Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, after the bill she filed in the Senate in July last year went through its first reading and was referred to the committee on electoral reforms and peoples participation, nothing has been heard about it.

A second anti-dynasty bill in the Senate was filed in November last year by Senator J.V. Ejercito but it too got lukewarm reception from the chamber.

Now still on its summer recess, Congress will resume its session in the first week of May. If the legislators really want a participative and transparent democracy to prevail in this country and make its economic growth touch the lives of a bigger number of Filipinos, they must act on the anti-political dynasty bill and pass it when they go back to work.

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